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Fooling Voters Only So Long

After reeling off the list of broken Obama promises (e.g., “reducing the deficit, reining in federal spending, not allowing lobbyists to work in his administration, increasing taxes only on those who make more than $250,000, and opposing ‘government-run health care’” — as well as the pledge to televise the health-care debate on C-SPAN), Karl Rove concludes:

This all plays into a broader narrative: Mr. Obama is not the centrist or new-style bipartisan leader he presented himself to be. On many of the most basic issues raised in the campaign, and in describing the kind of leadership he would practice, Mr. Obama misled voters. Americans will overlook a lot of things when it comes to politicians—but being on the receiving end of a giant bait-and-switch game isn’t one of them.

The problem for Obama with this narrative is that it’s compelling to a broad range of voters: independents (who both liked the nonpartisan persona and are particularly aggrieved by dishonest politicians), those conservatives snookered by Obama’s campaign rhetoric, and even some Democrats who chose him over Hillary Clinton precisely because they were worn down by the partisan wars and saw in Obama the chance to build a new governing coalition. Had Obama actually accomplished something tangible in his first year — saving or creating some jobs, for example, or passing a widely supported health-care plan — all might be forgiven. But it’s the toxic mix of deceit and incompetence that riles voters.

Republicans shouldn’t start measuring drapes for the Oval Office yet. The first term is only a quarter done. If unemployment tapers off by 2012, the midterm elections (or threat thereof) force Obama to moderate his policies, and he keeps the country safe while prosecuting the war against Islamic terrorism successfully on the Afghanistan and Iraq battlefields, then the public will reward him. But his tumble from Olympian heights of popularity is a lesson for politicians: voters are not to be trifled with — they have the ability to register their wrath.



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